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Western Press Review: Germany's No-Confidence Vote, Tensions Within Northern Alliance

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press discusses today's scheduled no-confidence vote in Germany, peacekeeping in Afghanistan, and U.S.-Russian relations. Other topics include the Balkans as an example for Afghanistan, tensions within the Northern Alliance, and NATO's role in the antiterrorism campaign.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Berthold Kohler considers Germany's no-confidence vote set for today. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for the vote after much government debate on whether to send 3,900 German soldiers to join the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

If Schroeder's coalition partners -- the often pacifist Greens and the Social Democrats -- vote against German participation in the antiterrorism campaign, they risk toppling the government. Kohler says that even while many Greens were accusing Schroeder of "coercion," "blackmail," and "an attack on freedom of conscience" for linking German internal politics to the campaign in Afghanistan, the Green leadership "mobilized all possible forces to push through their expression of commitment to the governing coalition."

Kohler says the Greens have been "obediently toeing the chancellor's line. [But] they do not admit it quite as readily as did their Social Democratic coalition partners. According to the Greens' most recent spin, even die-hard pacifists will be able to vote in favor of the deployment of troops from Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, because the war in Afghanistan is as good as over, because the focus is now on reconstructing a multicultural civil society...."

Kohler says that ultimately, the Green party's conduct will be determined by "using whatever means necessary to stay in power."


In the "International Herald Tribune," John Vinocur also discusses today's no-confidence vote in Germany. Vinocur says the call for the vote "exposes the distance at which Germany remains from the level of foreign policy modernization and new international influence that the chancellor says he seeks for the country."

Vinocur says that Chancellor Schroeder seemed to be trying to be more flexible regarding German internal politics, to "[blur] the growing contradiction between his engagement and the slippage in support for the American-led campaign among the Greens and at the edges of his own Social Democrats."

"In reality, the circumstances brought into focus the difficulty of hoisting Germany, more than 50 years after the end of World War II, to a global politico-military status that involves taking sides, getting in harm's way, and existing in new, uncertain circumstances."

Schroeder's vision of a renewed international role for Germany has been undermined by internal governmental squabbles, says Vinocur. "To the degree that the German chancellor wanted his Afghanistan engagement to translate into a front-rank role for his country in devising a post-Taliban solution, affirmation of Germany's developing role as leading European player in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, and leverage to win a German seat on the United Nations Security Council, the German political realities he sought simultaneously to obscure have dealt him an awkward setback."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" considers recent gains made by the antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan, and says the urgent task now "is to consolidate military gains and to prevent Afghanistan from slipping into anarchy. Success will depend in part on the early deployment of a multinational security force acting under a mandate from the United Nations. This force must be credible, with a clear command structure and robust rules of engagement. There must be no repeat of previous UN peacekeeping failures such as Bosnia in the early 1990s," says the paper.

The paper says the multinational force "should probably be fronted by Muslim troops, possibly led by Turkey, in order to avoid offending Afghan sensitivities." Its first mission should be to "police the capital of Kabul and regional centers dominated by local warlords. [Minimum] law and order is also the essential ingredient for a future political settlement in Afghanistan. This will depend in turn on the establishment of a transitional political authority comprised of all ethnic factions."

The Northern Alliance's political leaders, says the editorial, "must understand that the fate of their country depends on a willingness to compromise, particularly on the ethnic composition of a transitional government in Kabul. It is the price of winning support from outside powers...."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Leo Wieland gives a detailed account of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit this week to the Texas ranch of U.S. President George W. Bush. As the first world leader to be hosted by Bush in his "genuine homeland," Wieland says Putin was truly given the VIP treatment. The Russian president, for his part, was reportedly ever-ready to make appropriate comments on the "romantic magnetism of Texas."

But Wieland says all this pleasant small talk did not amount to Putin's acquiescence when Bush began pressuring him to consign the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to the "rubbish heap of history," and agree to the American missile defense project. This sensitive issue was on the agenda again yesterday, but Wieland notes that Putin remained adamant to the end.


In "The New York Times," Patrick Tyler also considers the three-day summit this week between the Russian and American presidents in Washington and Crawford, Texas. For all the informality, Tyler says, "it seemed astonishing that there was no advance on the main issue that divides them -- how to structure a new framework for strategic arms that will bind the United States and Russia well beyond their [Bush and Putin's] terms of office."

Tyler notes that "the breakthrough that had been expected here at Crawford was based on Russia's strategic shift since 11 September in support of the American campaign against terrorism, and Mr. Putin's statements that he was ready to 'stretch' the ABM treaty to allow American missile defense tests."

But Tyler says that if Bush had hoped to reach agreement on missile defense and arms reductions with a handshake, "Mr. Putin showed that he believes that handshakes and trust between leaders is not enough to ensure a stable nuclear order, or [to] address Russia's concerns that an unconstrained American power might someday bring pressure to bear that Moscow would not be able to resist."

"Mr. Putin is anxious to build a strong relationship with Mr. Bush and America for all the benefits that accrue to Moscow as it seeks to rebuild a devastated economy. Both powers, meanwhile, are eager to preserve and build on the remarkable rapprochement since 11 September."


In the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Flora Lewis calls for the immediate deployment of an international peacekeeping force to Afghanistan.

"Now the Taliban's expulsion is cause for celebrations that are cautious because of fear the cycle will be repeated. It is essential not to wait for the worst to happen but to send in quickly an international force to maintain public order. A United Nations expedition with a major contingent from non-Arab Muslim states has been proposed and should be rushed into place even before a clear governmental structure can be set up."

Lewis says the former states of Yugoslavia serve as an example that whatever is organized in Afghanistan will rely on support from the international community for a long time. "The fact that nothing has been solved in the Balkans should serve as a warning that when the war ends in Afghanistan, peace cannot be assumed. There appears to be a single preeminent superpower in the post-Cold War world, but there is no Pax Americana. Rather there is a sinister emptiness, or entropy, which requires the injection of energy on an organized, international scale to forestall disintegration and distress."

Lewis adds, "No amount of firepower can substitute for perseverance."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," politics professor Sean Kay says that NATO has an important role to play in the antiterrorism campaign. He says that NATO expansion took a back seat in world affairs after the 11 September terrorist attacks, "but both events are intimately linked." For NATO to remain relevant, he says, the alliance "must be capable of responding to the threat of terrorism. And that means that both members and candidates must show they are ready to deal with this new challenge."

"NATO now has a direct opportunity to play a major institutional role in creating an atmosphere in which terrorist attacks are more difficult to carry out. When the NATO members meet for their biennial ministerial meetings in early December, they must make sure that both members and candidates show they are making a contribution to the effort to fight terrorism."

Currently, he says, "NATO's membership criteria require states to prepare to contribute to collective defense, but specify no action that must be taken with regards to the actual threat NATO now faces: terrorism. By moving quickly to revise alliance expectations of old and new members, NATO can ease future enlargement and at the same time make the policy actually correspond to a clear and present danger to the peoples of Europe and America."


An analysis in "Eurasia View" says that tensions within Afghanistan's Northern Alliance are causing concern among UN officials, as diplomats try to work out the details of a broad-based provisional government to bring stability to the country.

The analysis notes that according to some reports, "battlefield success is causing old rivalries among Northern Alliance factions to resurface. The political vacuum created by the sudden collapse of Taliban authority is prompting various alliance factions to jockey for influence over the country's political and economic future."

It remarks that Northern Alliance leaders "say publicly they support the UN state-building initiative. But diplomats at UN headquarters in New York say they have received unconfirmed reports of possible clashes among Northern Alliance factions.... [They] also say that policy differences are emerging among Northern Alliance political leaders, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and President Burhanuddin Rabbani."

Rabbani has been described by some UN officials as president by default, says the paper. His government was the last to be recognized by the UN in Afghanistan before it was ousted by the Taliban. But the UN has been cautious in renewing its endorsement of his authority, as it seeks to include all ethnic groups in its fold.

"UN officials have cautioned the Northern Alliance against infighting, stressing that no one ethnic group will be permitted to dominate the provisional government."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Phillipe Deprez writes from Pristina on the prospects for tomorrow's (17 November) elections in Kosovo, which will establish the First National Assembly of Kosovo. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is expected to win more than 50 percent of the vote, says Deprez. But he adds that even in Pristina, it is events in Afghanistan that dominate conversations and television screens.

He says the UN will still have the final word, and the new assembly -- which will have an Albanian majority -- will not have the right to declare independence. But Deprez says that, even so, the Serbian population believes the Albanians will manage to use the new assembly to declare Kosovo's independence.

Local Serbian politicians have said that voters will be seen as traitors; many Serbs have threatened to boycott the polls. Ultimately, however, the Belgrade authorities decided to encourage Serbs to vote in the election, says Deprez. And Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has warned that a Serbian boycott will be perceived by the international community "as a renunciation [of] Kosovo."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)